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The UK’s digital success is all about people

Access to talent – both in the UK and internationally – is key to making the government's digital strategy a success

We are often awed by the astonishing advances in technology. The pace of change is so fast and the transformations so radical that it’s easy to forget tech is all about people. People are the pioneers, innovators, consumers and beneficiaries of these innovations. Lose sight of this and the UK’s incredible tech ecosystem will undoubtedly be diminished.

That’s why the government’s digital strategy is right to focus on people as much as technology. From providing British people with the skills they need to transforming public services, the digital strategy recognises that people are key to making the UK the best place to start and grow a tech business.

I’m hugely proud to see the number of TechUK members’ incredible skills initiatives set out in the strategy as these highlight how the sector is ensuring everyone can reap the societal rewards from new technologies.

To realise the government’s ambition to be a global tech hub, the UK must be a global hub for talent. UK tech faces a triple hit on digital skills: the UK’s domestic digital skills pipeline still isn’t strong enough to meet the growing demand, and skilled workers from both the EU and non-EEA countries face tighter restrictions in the near future.

As TechUK’s recent report found, 18% of the UK tech workforce is not from the UK, so the digital strategy will need to work in tandem with the industrial strategy to ensure the sector has the talent it needs to flourish.

While the strategy places skills at its core, establishing a new digital skills partnership, the UK’s digital economy will suffer if it cannot access international talent in the near term. Karen Bradley, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, must remain true to her commitment to provide the UK’s digital economy with the skills it needs to be a world leader.

But just as the UK’s digital future cannot thrive without great people, we also need the right conditions to enable the UK’s talent to keep developing tomorrow’s technologies. The £17.3m pledge to support Britain’s world-leading artificial intelligence sector signals that the government wants the UK to lead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as does the renewed commitment to delivering world-class connectivity.

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The further developments of international Tech Hubs announced in the strategy are also a vital component, as building on areas where the UK has an existing competitive advantage will be essential for a successful, global Britain.

There remain policy questions which require urgent answers, not least around access to international talent and ensuring a robust legal mechanism for maintaining international data flows.

However, the digital strategy is an important step forward for the UK’s digital economy. It’s both ambitious and comprehensive, and most importantly, it recognises how strategically important our digital know-how is for the rest of the UK economy. This is all about making sure businesses and people across the UK can benefit from our global leadership in tech.

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